Rock Art

Tue. 25th June 2019

KakaduToday, we are concentrating on the area close to Arnhem Land where there are fine examples of Aboriginal cave art. Arnhem Land itself is an area of NT which was signed over to the Aboriginal people in the 1930s and even Australians need a permit to enter. It is one of Australia’s untouched wilderness areas occupied by only 17,000 Aboriginals. It is possible to do tours into that area and learn about the area and people but, as ever, time is against us. We settle for driving ourselves to those places in Kakadu which are accessible this side of the East Alligator River. The Kakadu National Park is run by agreement between the Aboriginal Custodians who have looked after the land for many years and NT. There are specific areas for tourists to explore and other areas which are strictly off limits to visitors.

Good example of the artworkOur first stop is Nourlangie, a long sandstone block of rock south of Arnhem Land which is important as it has provided shelter for over 2,000 years. I always think of Australia history as only starting with the European explorers and settlers. Most cities do not have the ancient buildings seen in Europe, giving the impression that their history only goes back a few hundred years, not thousands. In this pocket of Australia it shows how wrong I am as it has the country’s best examples of Aboriginal Art, which has survived many many years.

Rock shelter is much larger than this showsAs we stand in Anbangbang Rock Shelter admiring all the paintings on the walls you can see why this cave, rock shelter was so well used. It is high above any flood levels and the natural rock formation gives protection from the elements, while having space to accommodate a large group of people. The gently sloping side means it is easily reached from the savannah below. Rock art is important to the Aboriginals as it is their history, telling stories of day to day life and act as archives of knowledge over the years. As we walk around the area we see many pictures on every available surface of rock as that is their canvas.

The GalleryIt is also thought that some of the older paintings were by the spirits and tell of legends and dreamtime stories we have come across earlier on our travels. One cave has a picture of a dangerous spirit called Nabulwinjbulwing which we are not allowed to photo. He can, however, also be seen round the corner in The Gallery painted along with other spirits. This was repainted in the 1960s (perhaps that is why we can photograph this image but not the earlier one??). I could give my views on repaint, restore, rebuilt, ruin but I have had that rant before! The art is clearer, more varied and more plentiful than that which we saw in Uluru and well worth the trip here.

View of Nourlangie - with the moon hanging over itWe walked on and climbed up to Gunwarddehwarde lookout for fantastic views over the countryside and back at Nourlangie and its huge rocks. Although there were a number of other tourists we did not find it too crowded, mainly because we seemed to be walking against the flow of tour groups so passed them quickly rather than followed them. There are also two coach loads of students we keep meeting, firstly at the campsite last night and now at each of the sights we visit. Although they left before us this morning they lost an hour and a half as one of the coaches had a tyre blowout which also severed an airline. They are now one step behind us. They are heading to Alice Springs by coach and, so, have some long days ahead.

Even the rocks are photogenicThe second well known place for seeing rock art in Kakadu is Ubirr and I have been looking forward to visiting there as one of the highlights of the trip. Having now been to Anbangbang (which I had not heard of until yesterday) will it top what we have just seen? We therefore head some 70km north to find out.

Paintings everywhereAgain there are many paintings on every possible rock surface depicting daily life. There are even detailed pictures of the different types of fish and there skeletons, to help identify which are which when fishing for food. A textbook on the rocks. As the paintings are in water soluble ochres it is amazing they have survived so long. I never expected to see quite so many paintings and we agreed that these were the best we have seen in Australia and up there with Kizil Caves in China.

Vista of varying terrainsHere the lookout had amazing views over the savannah, billabong, monsoon forests and wetlands and then behind us the Arnhem Land Escarpment which is some 500km long reaching heights of 200m. As the school kids arrive they start singing from the Lion King as the view reminds them of the view Simba had looking down on the Pride Lands. Crocodile Dundee would actually be more appropriate as it was predominantly filmed in Kakadu (note to self, must watch that film again).

Whoops. Didn't quite make the crossingHaving had our fill of artwork, we now head to Cahills Crossing (of the East Alligator river)  which joins Kakadu to Arnhem Land. We have been told to go and watch the people fishing as there is always a battle to land their catch before the crocodiles intercept and steal the fish. There is even a viewing platform there supposedly just for this. We actually parked a short way upstream and captured this view of a car washed off the crossing and the spectators in the distance. (Definitely wouldn’t have liked to have been in that car when it ended up in the river).

Looking over to the Arnhem Lands EscarpmentIt was soon time to go and claim our final camp pitch for our last night of camping in the Beast. We decide on the site where we were originally going to spend 3 nights in a cabin. As we have been enjoying our camping, we are pleased to have switched from a room to our tent as we can utilise the same facilities at a fraction of the cost. It has given us the freedom to explore more parts of what has turned out to be a very varied and interesting park. We’ve also love how friendly the world of campers is as we chat whilst cooking our supper in the communal outdoor kitchen.

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